Most astonishing about BROADWAY BOUNTY HUNTER, a sassy, joyous, booty-shakin’, dyno-mite new musical in its world premiere at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield is that the St. Germaine theatre can handle all the talent and power exploding on its compact stage. Written by the young, wonderfully gifted composer and lyricist Joe Iconis and new scriptwriters Lance Rubin and Jason SweetTooth Williams, BROADWAY BOUNTY HUNTER belts out the tale of New York stage veteran actor Annie Golden, sixtysomething (read un-castable), widowed (lonely) who, with nothing to lose (desperate), becomes a bounty hunter to capture a drug lord in South America.
The story is inspired by Iconis’ good friend the real actor Annie Golden, sixtysomething, Broadway veteran, but, unlike her fictionalized character, still totally a star, as evidenced by her powerhouse performance here. For narrative inspiration, the writing trio plumb the blaxploitation films of the 70s (think “Cleopatra Jones”) with some King-Fu movies thrown in. What emerges after two acts of 17 musical numbers and non-stop action and dance is both a fresh, heartfelt story of a woman who discovers her inner self and a hep, cool love letter to the American musical comedy tradition.
The creative force of BROADWAY BOUNTY HUNTER is Iconis, whose songs are its core. What’s distinctive about Iconis’ compositions is that unlike so many musical theater composers of his generation, he trades in neither monotonous motifs nor banal pop-balladry. Instead, his songs are rich in foot-tappin’ rhythms and groovin’ melodies - I left the theater with a bunch of catchy tunes in my head - that acknowledge genres from R&B to Funk, from Rap to Rock, splashed with Disco and Pop. What’s more, Iconis’ score, while totally now, observes the musical theater traditions of past masters like Rodgers and Hammerstein: each of Iconis’ song reveals critical aspect of character and advances plot. The orchestrations by Charlie Rosen and musical direction by Joel Waggoner are exceptional, as are all the vocal performances from the steely yet plaintive voice of leading lady Golden to the full-throated, Gospel- textured voices of the ensemble.
You know right off from the start you’ve got a musical that works when the opening number not only grabs the audience with a tune but also tells the audience what the main character is all about. Iconis’ “Woman of a Certain Age” is like a mini masterclass in both (plus it provides a musical theme deservedly reprised several times). Golden shines in that, but two other numbers prevail: the beautifully constructed “Ain’t No Thing” her duet with wistful melody that concludes Act 1 (and sets up the subplot key to Act 2) and Golden’s powerful solo ballad of self-affirmation, “Veins.”
BROADWAY BOUNTY HUNTER’s book, as cool as Iconis’ score, acknowledges, too, the best elements of the musical comedy genre. Annie gets paired up with a handsome stud (the deep silky- voiced Alan H. Green), years younger than she, named Lazarus (and for good reason) to hunt down the drug lord (hilariously played over-the-top by BSC’s Jeff McCarthy). What happens between Annie and Lazarus and what Annie discovers about the drug lord, Mac Roundtree (named with a wink to the 70s Black detective SHAFT, famously portrayed by actor Richard Roundtree) depends on ridiculous coincidence and plot twists, as does some of the most beloved musical comedy. There’s loads of inside-baseball theatre jokes (I like the ones about Mandy Patankin and XANADU), and sometimes even deliberate cornball, but the humor is all tongue-in-cheek fun, snarky but never bitchy, self-deprecating but never condescending to its characters. The second act gets a little clumsy in tying plot loose ends together, but, so what? Name a musical where the second act isn’t a little less than the first: it goes with the genre.
The entire cast is terrific. Besides Golden, and featured actors Green and McCarthy, kudos to Jason Veasey, who is as dexterous vocally (he does at least five different voices, each in different dialect and range) as he is physically (just watch him freak out). Badia Farha and Anastasia McCleskey, each in multiple roles, get knockout solos to strut their stuff. Badia, with an incredible set of pipes, besides opening the show with the clarion “Women of Certain Age,” does herself one better as the Madam of a whorehouse in “Ho Theme Song”. And there’s nothing sweet charity about McCleskey as Janessa the Ho - the way she moves every inch not a lady – in “Song of Janessa”. Special shoutout to Alan Green who brings the house down with a stunning Black Spiritual interpretation of Lazarus’ “Feelings.” Wow.
The ensemble moves as well as it sings. Choreographer Jeffrey Page punctuates ensemble numbers with dance moves of the 70s (think Soul Train), the only drawback being the confines of the St Germaine stage preventing the company from really breaking loose. The fight choreography by Ryan Winkles mimics with perfect cartoon quality the action sequences from 70s martial arts movies. All the action, including the cast dancing in the aisles to open the second act, is woven together by director Julianne Boyd, who took over direction deep into rehearsals, amazingly teching the entire production in just a week.
If space is somewhat constrained in BROADWAY BOUNTY HUNTER, costuming definitely is not. Hats off to Bobby Frederick Tully for a rapid-fire parade of dozens of colorful, dazzling, witty adaptations of 70s fashions. Lazarus’ blue and white plaid, bell-bottomed, polyester suit accented with cobalt blue felt fedora with pheasant plume out-superflies Superfly.
What comes through in every aspect of BROADWAY BOUNTY HUNTER is how passionately Joe Iconis and creative company and Annie Golden and cast love musical theater. BROADWAY BOUNTY HUNTER is so entertaining and so much fun, they all make it so easy to feel the love, feel the power.
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